Auburn's Nick Marshall was cast as the Other Quarterback in the BCS championship game Monday night at the Rose Bowl. The spotlight for the game was focused squarely on Heisman Trophy-winning Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, just as it has been since he made his national debut in a Monday night telecast of the season opener.
But around Auburn, Marshall's performance this season has drawn favorable comparisons to the Tigers' 2010 Heisman winner, Cam Newton, who led that team to a BCS title. Marshall isn't as physically imposing as Newton, but coming into Monday night, he had passed for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns as the triggerman for coach Gus Malzahn's high-tempo read-option offense.
Florida State's defense managed to hold Auburn's read-option offense to 232 yards rushing, which was well below its nation-leading 335-yard average. But Marshall's passing prowess helped the Tigers run up a 21-10 halftime lead. He was 14-for-27 for 230 yards in the air for the game and ran for 45 yards on 16 carries.
The comparison to Newton is flattering, but Marshall isn't ready to go there. "Cam Newton, I've been watching him ever since I came into college, and he's a great all-around player on and off the field," he said before the game. "You really can't compare us. I just look up to him and keep doing what I've been doing best."
That's making the correct decision about what to do with the ball. Running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 1,816 yards, including 195 yards Monday night, said he prepares to get the ball on every play, but it's not his decision. "It's a decision Nick makes," Mason said. "He has to read. Sometimes it's not even a read, it's whether he feels he can get around the end, and he does his thing."
Marshall joined the Auburn program in June and won the starting job in the fall. He transferred in after spending a year at Garden City (Kan.) Community College after his dismissal from Georgia's football team in February 2012 because of his involvement in a dormitory theft.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt had moved Marshall to cornerback as a freshman, but his athleticism was just what Malzahn needed in a quarterback. "What means the most to me is coach Malzahn and coach Lashlee giving me the second chance to come back to the SEC and play football," Marshall said. "When I was at Georgia, I try not to think about it. It's something I put behind me and thank the man above I got a second chance to play college football again."